2015 – the year in review

I’m a bit late to the party with reviewing last year but December was such a busy month (and I still have not caught up with all my trip reports).

However, 2015 was an epic year for being outdoors.  It was dominated by hills, hills and more hills with less running or cycling than in previous years as weekends away in the Bongo presided over any other plans.

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Half a wee Bookil

Ally and I had been kindly invited by some folk we had met before from the 45 Degrees Mountaineering club to one of their club hut weekends.  This one was at the Inbhirfhaolain hut in Glen Etive and so we drove across after our walk up Beinn a Chaorainn / Beinn Teallach.  Driving along through Glencoe is always mesmerising, no matter what the weather.  It is such a dramatic and sensational landscape, your jaw literally cannot fail to drop every time.  In cloud and clag the Highlands can sometimes look bleak and drab, but Glencoe just looks amazing with its huge buttresses and crags of glistening black rock rearing up through the swirling mist, and rivers pouring down the mountainsides like molten silver.  Incredible!  Today though it was sunny and beautiful and I gazed up at the saw teeth of the legendary Aonach Eagach ridge as we drove past.  One day soon…

Then of course the drive down Glen Etive.  Such an incredible glen – it’s little wonder Mr Bond went for a wander there!

The obligatory money shot: Buichaille Etive Mor

The obligatory money shot: Buichaille Etive Mor

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Allt Scheicheachan Bothy / Beinn Dearg

The forecast for last weekend was looking horrendous.  Ally and I had arranged a bothy night in Glencoe with some of Ally’s ML course pals, but MWIS (Mountain Weather Information Service) was forecasting heavy rain and winds with gusts up to 80mph in most areas.  As usual, the better weather was looking like it would be in the east, so Ally quickly looked out an alternative in the SE Highlands.

The plan was to walk in from Bridge of Tilt carpark to Allt Scheicheachan bothy, stay overnight, walk up the Munro, Beinn Dearg, the next day (weather permitting) and then walk back.  If the weather was really awful we could just walk into the bothy and back out the next day.

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Post Christmas de-stress – blue skies, snow and Lochnagar

After all the December blowouts I was ready for some proper hills!  Ally and I initially planned to head to Lochnagar on the Sunday after Christmas – I wanted to climb the Corbett Conachcraig, but Ally was keen on Lochnagar instead.  A hill I’ve walked a few times but never in winter.  Well anyway, a burst water pipe in the house when we got back on the Saturday night put paid to those plans – Happy Christmas!  I was definitely ready to de-stress by Monday.  Which, incidentally, was the more perfect day – so it worked out very well in that respect, as Sunday had been OK but cloudy in the Cairngorms.

Lochnagar

It was baltic setting off for Glen Muick first thing from the house.  Driving through Torphins it was -5.5C – the coldest we had seen it this year.  When we got to Glen Muick however it had risen to -4C.  So, fairly chilly – however it was one of those blue sky sunny days with no wind which, of course, helped enormously.

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Birthday backpack & bothy

My birthday has rolled round once again.  Ally asked what I’d like to do so I suggested a weekend involving backpacking, bothies and hills – a few of my favourite things.  He planned it all and it was going to remain a surprise as to what / where exactly, but my inner planner got the better of me and I asked him to tell me a few days beforehand.  It was in Highland Perthshire, north of Dunkeld – a two day backpack and an overnight stay in a bothy with hill options on the way.  Not knowing what the weather would be like, Ally had erred on the side of caution and stuck to relatively lower ground.  Looking up the planned route on the map I noticed that although we weren’t in the high hills, there were two Marilyns (Deuchary Hill and Creag nam Mial) en route for each day.  Always a sucker for hills on a list, I suggested we included these as well.

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Cape Wrath Trail backpacking kit list

I thought I’d share my kit list that I took for the Cape Wrath trail earlier this year, and also some notes on what items of gear worked and what didn’t.

The walk took 15 days.  My pack came to 28lbs when fully packed and would vary depending on how much food we had eaten.  I found this comfortable and manageable for a heavy pack.  My pack itself is great.  I used to have a lightweight one by Golite that I took on a coast-to-coast backpack across Scotland a couple of years ago, but the trade-off between lightweight vs comfort did not suit me – I was in a lot of pain and ended up with bad weals on my hips and shoulders where it dug in.  The Osprey one is a little heavier because of more padding but so much more comfortable and I really don’t notice any difference in weight.

The silk sleeping bag liner is great too.  I used to get quite cold in just the sleeping bag but this has made a big difference.

I also love my Patagonia base layer.  This is super light, made from a mix of merino and polyester.  It wicks, doesn’t smell after continued use, is warm when it’s cold and cool when it’s hot (although I also wore a merino t shirt on top most days – I get cold easily and we didn’t get the warmest weather on the trip).

The Hi-tec Zuuk trainers were brilliant for river crossings, lighter than my crocs and not as bulky, and also acceptable to wear down the pub (unlike crocs 😉 )

The many pairs of gloves explanation – I have Raynaud’s syndrome which means my hands get cold and blue from a lack of circulation, and I need to have a layer system of gloves because there really is no one pair that helps stop an attack.  I have found though that the Pearl Izumi claw mitts are brilliant.  I bought them initially for cycling in cold weather and found my hands never got cold with them on, so they have now found their way into my walking kit.  They have just enough dexterity for me to be able to function zips and clasps etc due to the ‘claw’ design.  Since then I bought a cheap pair of thick fleece wrist warmers in one of those Himalayan clothing sales that pop up in village halls now and again.  These have been a bit of a revelation in keeping my circulation going and I now find I often don’t need gloves.

For food we had bought a new Jetboil and committed to only eating dehydrated food that required only boiling water.  This worked fine because we ate our tea in pubs or hotels where we could, to give us a break from the dehydrated stuff.  It meant water boiled in 2 minutes and we didn’t have to take extra pans or cooking gear.

Most of the gear I took was tried and tested beforehand and I knew worked great for me so there was very little that didn’t, but I’ve never been happy with my Asolo boots.  I stupidly got carried away reading the brilliant reviews and ordered a pair over the web.  I’ve had them for 3 years, and still got blisters and hot spots after continued use years later.  They also started leaking after a year.  They were quite grippy and good on rock but pretty useless in bog and muck, which makes up the bulk of Cape Wrath routes ground.  Maybe they just weren’t right for my feet.  I’ve since bought a pair of Meindl Burmas which have been absolutely brilliant and comfortable from the start – but this time I had a foot fitting at an outdoor shop and tried on lots and lots of different pairs before I bought them.  It has shown me the value of going to a shop and getting this done because all feet are different and what works for someone else doesn’t necessarily work for me.

I recommend boots on the Cape Wrath Trail, despite recent views otherwise.  It is rough and generally pathless ground whatever route you take – where there is a path it is often the boggiest ground you will ever encounter.  Trail shoes would be no fun, especially in the conditions we had; trenchfoot less so, plus I like the ankle support of boots on rough ground.

Also my Rab base layer was OK but a bit whiffy after more than one day and not as cool on hot days.

We ate Mountain Trails dehydrated meals.  These we found generally much nicer than Mountain House, plus made by a UK family company who are also mountaineers. ( http://www.mountaintrails.org.uk/About_Meals.htm )

I did not take any item of gear I did not use, save for the midgie net – but that would have been a necessity if there had been midgies, and it is tiny and weighs nothing.

Pack & Sleeping

Osprey Ariel 55 rucksack

Rucksack cover

Thermarest mat

Mountain Hardwear Lamina 20 Sleeping bag

Silk sleeping bag liner

Rucksack liner dry-bag

Osprey rucksack clip-on pouch

Food & Water

Water bottle

Small hip flask (filled with whisky)

Clothing

2 x pairs Smartwool hiking socks

Asolo Atlantis GTX boots

Underwear (2 x pants, 2 x bras)

Base layers:

– Patagonia long-sleeved base layer

– Rab base layer

– Smartwool merino vest

– 2 x Icebreaker merino t-shirts (I always wore one over a Patagonia long-sleeved one, I’m a cold fish, hence 4 x baselayers)

Mid-layers:

– Haglofs Lizard Q softshell top

– Mountain Equipment windproof top

Trousers:

– Mountain Equipment walking trousers

– Mammut walking trousers

Sleeping – I sleep cold so….:

(oh the glamour…)

– 1 x pair cashmere socks (sleeping)

– Merino leggings

– Merino long sleeved top

– 1 x merino beanie

For the cold:

– Woolly/fleecy hat

– Buff

– 2 x silk liner gloves

– 3 x regular Black Diamond gloves

– Pearl Izumi ‘lobster claw’ mitts

For camp/bothy:

– Mountain Hardwear down jacket

– Hi-tec Zuuk lightweight trainers (also good for river crossings)

Hygiene

Quick dry micro towel

All purpose shower gel

Toothbrush & mini paste

Tiny brush

Sun cream/midge spray (combined)

Face wipes

Tiny tube of moisturiser

Wash bag

SPF lipbalm

Tissues

Tiny mirror

Miscellaneous

Midge net

Ear plugs

Book (purposely chosen for weight)

Waterproof wallet

Phone + charger

Dry bags

Compass

Head torch & spare batteries

Pen & waterproof notepad

Itinery (maps, plans, etc)

Blister plasters

Tape for chafing

Waterproofs

Berghaus GTX trousers

Goretex shell over-mitts

Mountain Equipment Lhotse GTX jacket

Mountain Equipment GTX gaitors

Lowe Alpine waterproof hat (I bought this during the trip, otherwise would have left my woolly hat behind)

Cooking/Food

Jetboil Sol titanium stove

2 x 230g gas for Jetboil

Food pouch cosy

Mountain Trails x 3 dehydrated food day packs (www.mountaintrails.org.uk ) (we took 3 days’ worth at a time and sent parcels at various stops to pick up along the way).  Day packs included 1 x breakfast, 1 x dinner & 1 x pudding)

Teabags, instant coffee sachets (the kind with with sugar and dehydrated milk)

Lunch:

A bunch of Clif bars

Packet of oatcakes & tube of Primula cheese

Occasional apple, bag of sweets, bar of chocolate etc

We shared the weight so Ally also took:

Golite Eden 2 tent

2 Alpkit titanium mugs

Penknife

Sporks

Lighter

Firelighters

2L water bladder

Moray Marilyn on the Dava Moor

I was up visiting family in Forres last weekend and managed to persuade one of my brothers to come out with me for a walk on the beautiful Dava Moor.  The Dava Moor is a vast and desolate stretch of moorland between the north from Forres and Nairn to the south at Grantown-on-Spey and Carrbridge.  It truly is a real hidden gem.  The road between Forres and Carrbridge is a spectacular landscape with a beauty all of its own, and makes a great cycle with big views on a quiet road.  There is also the Dava Way, which is a long distance walk between Grantown and Forres on the old railway line.  As railway paths go, this one is great – you are not blocked in by the railway embankments for most of it and cross the moor in a real feeling of solitude.  I biked it last year on my old trail bike which is also a good option, starting from Grantown.  The Dava Way Association do a fantastic job in maintaining this way, an organisation I am happy donating to (find it here http://www.davaway.org.uk/).

Back to the walk.  We chose the small hill, Carn na Loine (549m and a sub-2000 Marilyn) as a focus and made a circuit out of that.  We drove down from Forres to Knock Of Auchnahannet and parked outside a house there, squeezing the car along the side of the road by the house bins (the Bongo is in the garage – a replacement radiator and an eye-watering pre-Christmas bill is to follow…she is worth it though).

Dava

From here we took the good LR track north-east for about 1.5kms until it started to curve round towards the mast on top of Tom Mor.

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Looking back towards the Cairngorms

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Carn na Loine

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From there we left the track and carried straight on across the rough, tussocky heather, hard going at first but giving way to shorter, scrubbier terrain higher up, until we got to the summit trig point of Carn na Loine. We got some pleasant views back towards Grantown and the Cairngorms / Monadhliath but it wasn’t as far ranging as we’d hoped due to the clouds.  Sadly we could not see Ben Rinnes from the top – apparently a great view from here.  We could see the Knock of Braemoray to the north-west though – another interesting looking wee hill.

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Simon at the summit

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Knock of Braemoray

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Sigh

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We made our way across to the subsidiary top, Carn an Fhuarain Mhor, crossing a flat part that looked like it was once a loch.

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There was no summit marker here that we could see so we carried on across to Carn Ruighe an Uain where there was a small cairn, and we then clambered down through the deep heather to a good LR track.  We saw a small building on the map where the track came to a t-junction and decided to have lunch there.  It turned out to be an unlocked hut with benches and a table – I guess a hut for grouse parties.  It was a useful place to sit out of the cold and wind.

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After lunch we turned left to take the track south.  A further km along we passed the ruin of Badahad, now nothing left but a lum, much to Simon’s disappointment since he is quite a fan of old ruins.

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We were keen to find Huntly’s Cave marked on the map as well and we walked further along until we came to an interesting rocky section, strewn with big boulders.  I spotted a faint flattened track leading off to the right and guessed it might lead to the cave.  After a bit of clambering about and false alarms we eventually found it.  It was about the size of a 2 person tent and distinctly creepy and uncomfortable looking inside.  Looking this up online when I got back, this was apparently where a Royalist Lord Lewis Gordon, later the 2nd Marquis of Huntly hid in 1644 or 45 during the civil war when pursued by the Earl of Argyll.  There are two Huntly’s Caves within 3km of each other (this one appears to be the lesser known one) so perhaps he bided in both.  In no way would I ever want to hide out in that!

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It was then an easy 2kms of good track to the minor road and then a further 1km back to the car.  On the way home I was reminded of the Jesus Saves stone – a stone I can remember passing for as long as I can remember when travelling home to Forres from any trip south.  It regularly gets an update with various ‘Jesus Saves’ slogans and I always knew I was near home whenever I passed it. This stone is a bit legendary round these parts 😀

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This was a nice walk for a shorter day and the bleakness of the moor makes it spectacular in any weather.